Gays continue to face unconscious prejudice

Eighteen years ago, a PHS student took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped to take his life. He was extremely open about and extremely proud of who he was. But he was bullied because he was gay, to the point that he felt he had no choice but to take his own life.

In some ways maybe schools have advanced past the point of bullying people in such an extreme way because of who they are. One of my best friends is gay. There are those who try to bring him down, who call him foul names and throw dirty looks at his knee high socks and his unabashed love for all things cute and Japanese. Though these people walk our halls, we live in the most open-minded decade yet for gay rights, we live half an hour north of San Francisco, a hotbed of the gay rights movement. However, underneath the thin layer of tolerance, there is an inherent prejudice built into society in the way that gay has become an insult. This thoughtless bias is the biggest change that needs to be made in order for us to reach that golden ideal of equality.

Our society as a whole has made steps toward equality. Gay marriage is now legal in 14 states and my parents say that the tolerance my friend is shown at school is mind-blowing compared to what they saw when they were in high school. As a whole, our country is slowly working towards acceptance of the gay demographic, and my friend can have a Hello Kitty phone case because he has a group of friends stretching from hall to hall who will take out anyone who says so much as a word against him. But the other day as I was walking down the hall at school, I heard a boy say to his friend in a scathing voice, "That's so gay." The friend responded with a mocking reprimand: "That's not a nice thing to call someone." The exchange struck me – not because of the initial "insult," but because in a weak attempt to correct his friend, the second boy had implied that being called gay is offensive, that there is something wrong with the term.

This is what the fight for equality comes down to, the unconscious prejudice. The fact that, as Macklemore puts it in his song "Same Love," "gay is synonymous with the lesser." People who claim to be progressive shy away from the words "You're so gay" because somehow these words have become an insult. Somehow we have unconsciously decided that though we will support gay rights and &‘like' Facebook posts about the newest state that has legalized same-sex marriage, we do not actually want to be called gay. Because of what the term gay means about us, because being different is not okay, not in that way. We will dye our hair and pierce our skin to be individuals, but when people label us as someone who loves in a way that the Bible claims to be a sin, we shy back into conformity.

And so here is the incongruity of our unconscious fears: we will ban Prop 8 while we act as though gay is an insult. It seems to me that this double standard is more prevalent in high school than anywhere else. The Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) is the biggest club at PHS, but at the same time one of the most common phrases used to insult one another is gay. The most disturbing part is that oftentimes, this is not a conscious prejudice on the part of the insulter. It has simply become ingrained in our brains that the term gay is offensive and that using the word against others is an appropriate way of putting them down. But while this is not conscious, it is still just as oppressive and offensive as, for instance, the segregation black Americans fought against fifty years ago. The use of the phrase as an insult is a more subtle form of prejudice, but this does not change the overall effect of discrimination.

Maybe this has all been said before. Maybe it is a pointless argument. But I believe in our generation and our country. I believe we can do right by my friend and do right by the thousands of other people out there who were born with the inclination to like their own sex better than the other. I believe we can correlate our definition of what is humane and come to the conclusion that the denial of rights to certain individuals because of who they love is roughly equal to the destruction of everything our country has ever stood for. The baseline for this equality lies in the way our minds work. We have to change the definition of gay. Maybe it is too late for that term, that particular word, and maybe my friend should be labeled simply as what he is: a guy who falls in love with other guys. It seems so much simpler when you see it like that.

No matter what words you use, the fact remains that gay should no longer be an insult. We must begin the process of changing the way we view the word, and therefore the way we view the people who are labeled with it.

(Bryce Aston is a 17-year-old senior at Petaluma High School. She has a passion for creative writing and plans to major in English or journalism at a four-year college).